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West Bank: same goal, different weapon

Putting down their guns, some residents of Jenin turn to art in their fight against Israel.

Mer’s son, Juliano, created the film Arna's Children in 2003, patching together footage of his mother running rehearsals in fluent Arabic along with the sad epilogue of the actors. Three years later he rebuilt the theater in the refugee camp. Now the rifles are only props.

Eyad Hurani, 22, plays a refugee in this season’s play and volunteered at Cinema Jenin’s opening.

“The first acting school in Palestine is the Freedom Theater,” said Hurani, who moved from Ramallah to Jenin to study theater. “It’s my big dream to study theater.”

Beyond the Freedom Theater and Cinema Jenin, music is also being used to help rebuild the nation. On a July Monday, Mays Ghasan, 13, played Haydn on a cello painted with tiny Palestinian flags on the bridge. The late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish gazed down from a photograph on the wall of the rehearsal room at the Kamandjati School of Music.

Eyad Staiti, 35, who plays the stringed Middle Eastern instrument called an oud, founded the school in 2007. One of 12 children who grew up in a Jenin refugee family, Staiti met Palestinian musical protege Ramzi Aburedwan in a French conservatory. The two built Kamandjati (Arabic for violinist) music schools across the West Bank, teaching 500 children. Most of Jenin’s 100 students learn for free on borrowed instruments.

“I have a dream to continue on with our students and for our students to become teachers,” Staiti said as he buffed a Yamaha piano in his office.

“When I prove my identity as a Palestinian through this peaceful movement, I can show the world that the Israeli occupation must end,” he said.

Not everyone, however, has welcomed Jenin's artistic revival. In April last year an arsonist burned down the Kamandjati school. Police have yet to make any arrests. A few months later the Freedom Theater was also set alight. Zubeidi, too, has his limits for Jenin’s arts.

“We will not show any film that shows a relationship between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. As for Khatib’s decision, he said, “I would give my own heart to save a Jew. But if he is going to continue occupying us I will tear out his heart and his father’s heart as well.”

Still, support for Jenin’s arts is strong. Hamad said when he consulted with Jenin’s City Hall, run by Hamas, he was surprised to receive support and even an electrical engineer to help the renovation. Palestinian President Salam Fayyad cut the cinema’s ribbon.

“If there is another intifada, the theater must go on,” said Kamandjati's Staiti. “The cinema must go on … Palestine has to have Haydn, Bach and Beethoven.”